5-18-16: Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustments today approved HOW Properties’ application for a variance for 9 residential units in Redeemer & new construction of five townhomes on the adjoining lot off Penn. See plans here.
(5-15-16: On the near eve of HOW Properties’ ZBA meeting for residential renovations to the old Redeemer Lutheran Church property, a member of Redeemer’s displaced congregation pleads to the community for one last shot.)
Redeemer Church has stood at Midvale & Conrad for well over a hundred years — built in 1909, vacant since 2009. To put it lightly, the last congregation here did not agree with the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s decision to close and sell their church.
Longtime member Judy Gotwald practically led a coup, but ultimately she & the other worshipers were quite dramatically ousted, with the church sold out from under them.
According to Judy (who has since been ordained by the Evangelical Christian Church of North America — Restoration Movement), they’ve been laying low all this time — waiting to save their church as soon as they felt it was safe from possible vindictive actions from the bishops who, they feel, sealed their fate years ago. Behind the scenes, Judy has been working with other church members and East Falls neighbors on a plan to run a ministry-based Summer day camp from Redeemer, plus a local newspaper as well.
She’s even been in contact with the owner of HOW Properties, Gary Jonas, who gave them until March 2016 to come up with a down payment for sale. With that deadline long passed, he’s now moving ahead with the zoning variances he needs to start construction. Judy asked us to help her get the word out that Redeemer is still an active local church, and still wants to be a part of the community:
I’m grateful that Gary gave us any chance. But I think the people of East Falls have a right to know there might be other options that weren’t publicized earlier… I’d still like to find some way to preserve that community space. It is every bit as precious as McMichael Park…
Judy admits her “Eleventh-Hour” proposal might be too late for the Redeemer property. Still, she’s got her eyes out for other spaces in the neighborhood to continue their ministry here, where they’ve been serving & worshiping more than a century.
Whether Redeemer becomes apartments, a newspaper, Summer camp, youth service organization, etc. — there’s no denying an era is ending for this beloved local landmark, once a pillar of the community. Thanks to Judy’s vibrant, slice-of-life pics from Redeemer’s history, we’ll always have a little something to remember its heyday by (NOTE: This slide was restored for EF Oktoberfest 2016).
Photos below from July 4, 1944 & 45. Independence Day used to be a religious holiday in East Falls. Churches had a parade up Midvale and then dispersed to their churches for picnics. Typically, the members went from one church to another sharing the day.
Looks like either drop the handkerchief or duck, duck goose being played in the lot where the school is looking at the end of rowhouse on Penn Street. Love the little guy tugging at his pants.
The other photo is looking up the hill at the back of the odd numbered row houses and the even-numbered house just visible in the background. I actually knew a couple of these people and my son is related to one of those seated. I’m pretty sure it’s his grandmother — but they all look alike!
In the church, stored under the stage is an old wooden sliding board like the one at Smith Playground. We used to put it up on the Fourth of July for all the neighborhood. It took up most of the side yard now known as “greenspace.” I let Gary know about this. He had no idea what it was.
These photos below are from a summer festival in 2008. It was oppressively hot that day! When these photos were taken, the synod had already sued us (court papers dated June 2008). We were locked out in September 2009.
The festival featured some of the Keystone State Boys Choir during worship. After worship, a local rock band (Spoons of Naples) provided entertainment. That’s my boy, Natty Leach, on the left.
The Lutheran Synod characterized us as aging and racist. Neither charge is true as the photos reveal. Not all in the photo are members, of course. It was a festival, but a lot of them are!
My niece, Cheyenne, with two of our East African child members. Makatalili and Ellen.
Finding some shade behind the sign. The bishop couldn’t wait to tear down the sign. Her theory was that if you take the sign down for six months, no one will remember the church. Other bogus theories from the bishop: churches without parking lots cannot succeed. That leaves out most urban churches!
Going back farthest, two great images from 1925:
As more churches close across America, communities lose trusted repositories of local history, families, and culture. Judy seeks to help fill the void with a new kind of ministry, adapting to the needs modern generations. She seeks to keep the spirit of Redeemer Lutheran Church alive in East Falls.
HOW PROPERTIES presents to Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustments Wednesday, May 18th at 2:00 pm, 1515 Arch Street, 18th Floor (215-686-2429). Judy plans to be there, along with her supporters who seek to delay Gary’s zoning variance. Near neighbors have expressed interest in going, as well, but to help move Gary’s plans forward.
Should be interesting — from what we know of Judy, she’s certainly not afraid to tangle for what she believes in. See you there!
PS: Read up on Redeemer’s planned renovations in our recap from earlier this month, including video and neighbor comments posted above.